A Green Mind

I woke up thinking how using the AC demands more electricity which primarily is sourced from coal thereby contributing to carbon emissions hastening climate change. But William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, “The Upcycle” claims that this is more of a design rather than an environmental problem. If the energy comes from a renewable source, then you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort provided by an air-conditioned room.

Same thing with taking a long shower. Nothing wrong with that if the water is recycled.

And this applies to products which don’t necessarily have to end up as trash if they follow the cradle to cradle concept, a holistic and waste-free way of manufacturing.

While reading this fascinating book in the bus, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder how difficult it is to pocket the tiny bus ticket that people put more effort in stuffing it in corners and crannies. Don’t get me started on the supposed inspection of these bus tickets. We do know there’s a better system and is already existing at that. Another design flaw.

Would it make a difference if I confront them? I once did that in the jeepney when this full grown, obviously educated woman, just mindlessly threw the garbage on the floor and I told her, “That’s not the garbage bin.” She just looked at me innocently as if she didn’t do anything. And that’s what I end up doing when encountering such individuals. Stare at them spitefully and they stare back confused wondering what they did wrong.

Littering is bad and everybody knows it but we’re just too lazy to care, that is, if we care at all.

Speaking of trash, another frustration I have is with straws and plastics. When you say, “No straw/no plastic, please” vendors or servers sometimes find that amusing. I was told, “Remove the straw yourself.” So when I see my friends using straws, I judge them, a little. I observed that for most people, these things are not a big deal.

How about health? We know that fastfood, processed food, and too much meat is bad news. Bad for the environment, too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s available, it’s cheap, and they taste so good, as well. I still eat fastfood sometimes because it’s that convenient. And real food is difficult to come buy these days. I was a pescatarian for a while wanting to be a vegetarian but options can be very limiting. Add to that the idea of micro plastics in my fish and pesticides in my veggies. Besides, according to “The Upcycle,” we should celebrate diversity and that includes diversity in diet. So right now, being a flexitarian is the best option for me.

I don’t know if it’s just a trend but more and more people are turning to organics, and healthy living, and being more mindful and more sustainable in their ways. This is the right thing to do but who am I to tell people how to live their lives. As zero waste advocate Lauren Singer puts it, what environmentalists can do is to show everyone that there are other better options.

I remember the quote from Inception: “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” So I guess my goal, since it’s Environment Month and all, is to plant seeds of green ideas and hope that these would grow in the minds of people. Because the truth is (and this is not some kind of an alternative fact), environmentalism, this seemingly hopeless idealism, is for humanity’s survival.

A Plastic Tale

I’m cheap, easy to manufacture, and you could mold me into any form you wish. You can use me once and throw me away and forget about me altogether. That, unfortunately, is not the end of my story. Because apparently, I can outlast your life and be here forever.

Sometimes, I get recycled but mostly I’m buried or dumped or kept somewhere away from your sight. Other times, you burn me and I give my last breath of life through toxic fumes. Or I let the wind carry me up in the air or I just float endlessly into the sea.

Life in the ocean can never be lonely. I’m reunited with all my kind at the North Pacific Gyre where we form a garbage patch. And thanks to the biggest plastic polluters, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, we could soon conquer the ocean.

I feel guilty, though, as I cause the death of countless animals when they mistake me for food or when they get entangled in my deadly embrace. And ever pervasive, I can break down into micro plastics ending up in your plate of fish.

I know it’s more convenient to use plastic bags instead of reusable ones. Or to buy bottled water instead of carrying a refillable bottle. Or choose disposables instead of washing up. Or drink through a straw instead of simply sipping one’s drink. But there’s already too much of us that maybe it’s about time that you reduce your plastic consumption.

Hey, I won’t take it against you. It’s the least I could do considering that May is the Month of the Ocean. And if it’s not too much, maybe you can even sign the petition calling for ASEAN to unite and act to protect the oceans from plastic and marine debris.

Every single piece of me ever made still exists today. However, I’ve stayed long enough and I’m ready to move on.

Greenpeace whale installation

Aesthete

batanes (22)
I like to stand at the summit
And gaze at the sea of clouds
The magnificent mountain ranges
The sunset
The sunrise
I like how the cool wind embraces me
Tousling my hair
Like gentle hands giving its affectionate gesture
Dancing through the branches and leaves
Making them wave their hello
I like the refreshing smell of the air
The scent of wood, and soil, and vegetation
I like how the birds tweet a tune
And crickets and night creatures with their orchestra of sounds
I close my eyes and stretch my arms
Taking it all in

Aesthete (adj.): Someone with deep sensitivity to the beauty of art or nature.

Do you enjoy nature, too? If so, do your part. Be stewards of the environment. Happy Earth Day everyone!

An Energizing Weekend

Riding a solar-powered trike, boating and kayaking, lake clean-up, stargazing, fire flies watching, good food, plus, a yoga session. All these became part of my awesome weekend getaway when I attended the MakeSense Retreat held at Pusod Taal Lake Conservation Center, at Lipa, Batangas.

It took us less than two hours to get to Lipa City from Manila and once there, we got to ride sunEtrike’s solar-powered vehicle which brought us to Pusod Center. Pusod is an environment group that aims to protect the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape by engaging local communities and helping them find livelihood while taking care of nature. The Center was the venue of the MakeSense Retreat, a gathering of social entrepreneurs and community builders who had meaningful discussions on social entrepreneurship and other opportunities for engagement.

The participants also had a chance to go boating and kayaking at the Taal Lake. Sadly, we discovered a lot of garbage in the lake so we decided to do a mini clean-up. I wish people could do a better job at managing their trash.

In the evening, it was a treat to look at the stars and watch fireflies dance. To enjoy the calmness of the lake. And to have a friendly visit from a frog and a beetle.

Of course, let’s not forget the sumptuous dishes prepared by Ka Betty. The pako (fern) and pansit-pansitan (shiny bush) salad was my favorite.

The following day, we welcomed the morning with a yoga session which was a good workout. I felt like I had a better posture after that.

It was nice to get to do all these activities with like-minded people. People who are driven and passionate. People who do their part to make this a better world.

With all the bad things seemingly sprouting from everywhere, there are still beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experiences to appreciate. And so I went back to Manila energized with a happy body, happy spirit, and a happy heart.

Photos from Rachel Eilbott and Marvin Almonte

 

 

El Paraiso

It’s the best beach in the Philippines and the world according to CNNGo and Conde Nast Traveler, respectively. It inspired the writing of “The Beach” which eventually was turned into a movie. TV shows like “Survivor” and films like “Bourne Legacy” were filmed here. It is even called “Heaven on Earth.”

The place I’m talking about is El Nido, meaning The Nest referring to the edible nests of swiftlets found in the crannies of limestone cliffs. This is the main ingredient of the gourmet nido soup.

My friends and I traveled to this piece of heaven via Puerto Princesa. The five-hour trip would lull you to sleep as you see verdant trees and plants on both sides of the well-paved road. I saw a squirrel and group of birds along the way so I thought we must be really on our way to paradise.

I was pretty disappointed when we reached the town proper as it appeared like any other congested city with houses and business establishments on top of each other. My vision of a simple, sleepy little town vanished and the environmentalist in me protested this exploitation for the sake of economic gain.

To be fair, El Nido and the whole of Palawan do their best to practice ecotourism. They see the importance of protecting natural resources not only because it’s the source of their income but because they genuinely care for it. Tour guides would constantly remind tourists not to leave trash, not to take sand, shells, or corals, to avoid stepping on corals, etc. Indeed, we should always remember to leave nothing but footprints, to take nothing but pictures, and to kill nothing but time.

Our first day of island hopping brought us to the small and big lagoons, Shimizu Island (named after Japanese divers who died there), and Seven Commandos (so-called due to seven commandos stranded in the island).

On our second day, we went to Helicopter Island (because it looks like a helicopter, or a dog, or a submerged Chickenjoy depending on how you would want to see it), Matinloc Island (which has a shrine and abandoned church which was a front for treasure hunting then), Tapiutan Island, and Hidden Beach.

Aside from the magnificent view of crystal-clear waters in different shades of blue dotted with enormous mountains of limestone rocks softened by trees and vegetation, I really enjoyed snorkeling around the islands. I found Nemo and Dory and different species of fish of all sizes and colors. Each snorkeling site would boast of different sets of fish and you can’t help but wonder how many species there are. Apparently thousands.

One thing that saddened me is the state of the corals which weren’t as alive and colorful as I expected them to be. It could be due to coral bleaching as caused by climate change. It could also be attributed to the frequency of tourists (hundreds each day the whole year round) which entails countless boats anchoring and possibly damaging the corals, plus swimmers stepping intentionally or unintentionally on these corals.

Again, props to El Nido for making an effort to educate its guides and coming up with environmental conservation programs. Admittedly though, it’s difficult to keep the balance between economic development and environmental protection. Most often than not, economics and tourism would always be prioritized.

El Nido is truly a paradise. I just wish it will stay that way for a long time so that the future could still explore and enjoy its grandeur and beauty.

Being an environmentalist

Biology was my favorite subject in high school and I think that made me decide to take up Environmental Science as a course in the university. But I feel like it’s in my blood. I belong to the Ibaloi indigenous ethnic group and as most indigenous people are, they are more connected to the earth. Or maybe I just like trees and mountains, and the natural world. And we’re supposed to be stewards of God’s creation anyway, right?

“Oh, that is so nice of you, trying to protect the environment.” That’s what I usually hear. It’s such a noble cause, they say. But I also remember someone saying, environmentalism is a hopeless idealism. It can seemingly be like that because people have a tendency to self-destruct or perhaps it’s humanity’s plain stupidity. We’re polluting the air and the water, using up all our natural resources, killing animals, cutting down trees, all in the name of development, of feeding society’s insatiable need to consume, and keeping the pockets of corporations fat as ever.

In school, I got to learn more about natural resource management and environmentalism. I had fun climbing mountains, exploring caves, and counting plants and trees. I began volunteering for a local environmental NGO. As a campus journalist, I was able to write about different environmental issues.

Being an environmentalist was not a career but more of a lifestyle for me. It was difficult to look for environmental jobs to begin with. I didn’t want to work for the government and the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) because I didn’t want to lose my idealism early on. So I took jobs unrelated to my course but I always tried to influence people to be more environment-friendly. I encouraged my co-workers to segregate waste. I gave talks on climate change. I urged my friends to volunteer and plant trees.

Now, I work for a solar energy company and I volunteer for Greenpeace Philippines and Climate Reality Project giving me more opportunities for environmental advocacy work. It surprises me how there aren’t a lot of environmentalists around considering the urgency of solving environmental problems. Those who claim to care for the environment don’t do a lot. Don’t get me wrong, every little contribution counts but at the rate of how fast we are destroying the planet, we should be more aggressive in taking action.

Last week, I joined Chikapihan with Yeb Sano, an informal environmental discussion event with the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and I asked him this question: “Reducing consumption is one way of helping the planet but how can we effectively do this when the very system requires us to consume?” Yeb admits that this is a challenge but the key is balance. He said there’s no single solution. That reducing consumption should be in a cultural or massive scale in order to make an impact. He added that the best way to change the system is to replace it with a new one.

Today is Environment Day and June is Environment Month in the Philippines. Once again, this is a reminder to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth. In the words of Bob Marley which is one of Yeb’s favorite quotes, “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off, how can I?”

So hopeless idealism this may be, it’s worth the shot. Let’s care a little bit more for the sake of the planet, our future, and ourselves.